WASHINGTON — The U.S. House rushed ahead Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.
Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.
The House convened Tuesday night to vote on urging Vice President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to remove Trump with a Cabinet vote. But shortly before that, Pence said he would not do so in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
He said that it would not be in the best interest of the nation or consistent with the Constitution and that it was “time to unite our country as we prepare to inaugurate President-elect Joe Biden.”
Meanwhile, three three Republican lawmakers, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump on Wednesday, cleaving the Republican leadership, and the party itself.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20.
“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.
Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.
“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.
In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”
With Pence’s agreement to invoke the 25th Amendment ruled out, the House will move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.
Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.
During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.
“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”
But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally just honored this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”
Two Republicans, Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, announced they, too, would vote to impeach.
A handful of other House Republicans could join in the impeachment vote, but it’s not clear there would be a the two-thirds vote needed to convict from the narrowly divided Senate, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.
The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.
Lawmakers were required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters. Some Republican lawmakers complained about it.
A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.
In the Senate, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, did not go that far, but on Tuesday called on Trump to address the nation and explicitly urge his supporters to refrain from further violence. If not, he said, Trump “will bear responsibility.”
No member of the Cabinet has publicly called for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment.
Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”
Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down Biden’s first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID relief while also conducting the trial.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer suggested in a letter to colleagues Tuesday the chamber would do both.
As Congress resumed, an uneasiness swept the halls. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. Many lawmakers were voting by proxy rather than come to Washington, a process that was put in place last year to limit the health risks of travel.
One of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was among those echoing the president, saying “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together.”
House Democrats say they have the votes for impeachment. The impeachment bill drafted by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California, during the riot lockdown, and joined by Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.
Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.
The impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.
The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.
Oaths questioned as Trump’s backers fight against lossBefore they take office, elected officials swear to uphold the U.S. Constitution. But what happens when they are accused of doing the opposite?
As some Republicans in Congress continued to back President Donald Trump’s doomed effort to overturn the election, critics — including President-elect Joe Biden — alleged that they had violated their oaths and instead pledged allegiance to Trump.
The oaths, which rarely attract much attention, have become a common subject in the final days of the Trump presidency, being invoked by members of both parties as they met Wednesday to affirm Biden’s win and a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.
“They also swore on a Bible to uphold the Constitution, and that’s where they really are stepping outside and being in dereliction of duty,” said former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who served as EPA administrator during former President George W. Bush’s administration. “They swore to uphold the Constitution against all our enemies, foreign or domestic, and they are ignoring that.”
The oaths vary slightly between government bodies, but elected officials generally swear to defend the Constitution. The Senate website says its current oath is linked to the 1860s, “drafted by Civil War-era members of Congress intent on ensnaring traitors.”
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, vowed to honor the oath she took and affirm the results of the presidential election while urging colleagues to do the same. Republican Sen. Todd Young, of Indiana, was seen in a video posted to social media telling Trump supporters outside a Senate office building that he took an oath to the Constitution under God and asked, “Do we still take that seriously in this country?”
Corey Brettschneider, a political science professor at Brown University and author of “The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents,” said the oath must be taken seriously and that Americans have to demand its enforcement or “the risk is to the entire system.” He said he would support censures, a formal statement of disapproval, for officials who clearly violate their oaths.
“The worst that could happen is that people roll their eyes at the oath and they say, ‘Oh, none of them mean it,’ and I think what we’ve got to do at a time of crisis is exactly the opposite — is to say, this does mean something,” Brettschneider said. “When you break the law, you need to be held to account, and that’s what’s really up to the American people to be outraged when Trump does what he’s done.”
Republicans who have filed or supported lawsuits challenging Biden’s win in November have claimed, without evidence, that the election was rigged against Trump. Their cases have failed before courts all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both Republican and Democratic officials have deemed the election results legitimate and free of any widespread fraud.
The oaths were mentioned often Wednesday during a joint session of Congress meant to confirm Biden’s victory. Some Republicans who launched objections to the election results claimed their oaths required them to do so, while Democrats urged their counterparts to honor their oaths and affirm Biden as the next president.
“The oath that I took this past Sunday to defend and support the Constitution makes it necessary for me to object to this travesty,” said Rep. Lauren Boebert, a newly elected Republican from Colorado.
As lawmakers met, violent protestors loyal to Trump stormed the Capitol in an insurrection intended to keep Biden from replacing Trump in the White House. While authorities struggled to regain control, Biden called on Trump to abide by his oath and move to ease tensions.
“I call on President Trump to go on national television now to fulfill his oath and defend the Constitution and demand an end to this siege,” Biden said.
The GOP effort to block the formal confirmation of Biden’s win eventually failed after Republicans recycled arguments of fraud and other irregularities that have failed to gain traction.
Democrats were quick to condemn Republicans who continued to oppose the results.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California asked, “Does our oath to uphold the Constitution, taken just days ago, mean so very little? I think not.” He added that “an oath is no less broken when the breaking fails to achieve its end.”
Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat from Missouri, said she would introduce a resolution calling for the expulsion of Republicans who moved to invalidate the election results.
“I believe the Republican members of Congress who have incited this domestic terror attack through their attempts to overturn the election must face consequences,” she tweeted. “They have broken their sacred oath of office.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said officials who continued to support Trump’s baseless claims of fraud violated their oath, and their rhetoric emboldened the rioters who stormed the Capitol.
“They have an allegiance that they have sworn — not to the Constitution and not the United States of America, but to one man, and that man is Donald Trump,” she said. “And they refuse to walk away from that no matter what he says, no matter what he does, and I think history will not judge them kindly for that.”